Sunday, 31 October 2010

Chariot Burial Looted in Macedonia

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Associated Press has announced today that Macedonian police had seized parts of a Roman-era bronze burial chariot dating from the second century A.D. as part of an operation to recover stolen antiquities and detained 2 people and charged with "concealment." It is believed that other parts of the chariot have already been sold on the foreign antiquities black market. In crackdowns in Macedonia more than 4,000 ancient artefacts, have been recovered in police raids since June. A total of 29 people, including two police officers and a former mayor, have been charged and police believe they are members of a crime ring aiming to sell stolen antiquities abroad. This trade of course cannot exist without people abroad willing to buy these antiquities from those representing the business interests of such a crime ring. Let us hope the ongoing Macedonian investigations reveals who they are. Let us hope their names are revealed and those of their business contacts. Responsible dealers should hold out for this too, so they can be protected from the stigma of association with those who have no scruples about not checking in detail the origins of the items they peddle.
Macedonian police seize parts of Roman-era burial chariot, detain 2 people
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(A reader suggested to me that instead of being a fresh story as Google Alerts tells me, this might be a recycled story five years old, on checking however I could find no trace of that being the case, if anyone knows any better please get in touch. Even if it is, the point made at the end still stands of course).

UPDATE: David Gill reminds us of this report ('Macedonia says cultural heritage plundered', 7th October 2005):
Macedonia's cultural heritage has been plundered to such an extent since independence in 1991 that authorities say they believe they have lost more than a million archaeological artefacts to Europe's black markets. "Macedonia is a victim of organised crime," which has stolen archaeological objects dating back to the 7th century BC, according to University of Macedonia history professor Viktor Lilcic.[...] Jovan Ristov, who heads the government department for preserving Macedonia's cultural heritage, added: "About 80 percent of Macedonia's archaeological treasures have been destroyed or taken from shallow archaeological sites."[...] A recent example of the trafficking occurred just days ago when an unidentified group of criminals smuggled out a "funeral ritual chariot" including human remains and animal figures from the 6th and 4th centuries BC, the Vreme newspaper said this week".
This seems to be yet another case of the disturbing practice of human remains going to a private collector to put on domestic display as some kind of trophy. This however seems to be a different vehicle from the one mentioned above.
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Vignette: Wikimedia.

Another Antiquity Criminal Group Busted in Bulgaria

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The press office of the Interior Ministry has announced that Bulgarian authorities have terminated the activity of an organized criminal group involved in illegal excavations and trade of cultural-historic valuables and foiled the illegal export of a group of looted archaeological finds to foreign no-questions-asked markets. The operation was carried out by officers of the Cultural Valuables Traffic Department at the Chief Directorate for Fight against Organized Crime, in cooperation with the territorial units in the cities of Pleven, Vratsa and Montana who had been watching the group for four months.
The gang was carrying out illegal excavation work on the Ulpia Oescus site (photo), located close to the village of Gigen, district of Pleven. Five members of the group have been detained. The authorities seized around 200 different ancient Roman coins, metal and stone figurines, gilt ("golden") harness appliqués and plaques. A two-metre stone ("marble") statue was also seized, which the criminals peddling it apparently valued at "more than EUR 1 million". It was initially thought to have represented Aphrodite (conceivably what it was being marketed as) but archaeologist Petar Banov from the Regional History Museum in Pleven identified it as a tomb sculpture of an unknown woman. The statue had been hidden by being buried in the yard of a house in the village of Gigen, police believe it had probably been dug out in 2006 or 2007 and had been hidden as the dealers awaited clients willing to buy it.



Sources:
'Criminal group dealing with illegal archaeological excavation works trade of
cultural-historic valuables busted in Bulgaria'
, Focus News, 29th October

'Bulgarian Police Seize Aphrodite Statue from Archaeology Criminals', www.novinite.com October 29, 2010.

'Bulgarian Expert: Seized Statue Is Not Aphrodite www.novinite.com October 31, 2010.

[The Wikipedia page on the site is pretty pathetic (the German one alone contains more information). There are some photos of the site here. The Roman bridge mentioned by the newspaper reports was a bit further along the river].
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Sanity and Reason

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Saturday's "Rally to restore sanity and/or Fear" held in the National Mall in Washington DC by US satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert was a notable event on a number of counts, not so much for the sometimes wooden performances themselves (I am not a Colbert fan) but the idea itself. The dumbing down of enquiry and debate in the media in recent decades was the focus of the attack, the fear mongers and irrational ranters. Many times in these pages I have had cause to note striking parallels between the writings of the no-questions-asked antiquities trade lobby and the US loony right, exactly the same trigger words, the same attitudes. The Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild and the dealers they are clearly affiliated with apply methods in drumming up support which are entirely Glenn-Beckian. Using the modern media to obfuscate the debate, throwing up smokescreens and eliciting knee-jerk reactions to inflamatory statements are their preferred tactics. Avoiding open and reasonable debate is another. The fax bombing campaigns of the no-questions-asked trade lobbyists have been based on misleading their audience into reacting to imaginary threats. Now the CPAC public submission campaigns are online we can all at last see the shallowness of the debate offered by the naysayers to preservation.

Jon Stewart gave quite a thought-provoking summing up speech at the end of the Washington rally pointing out the role of the superficiality of the media in producing the shocking bipolarism which is the external face of US politics which we see today.
“The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous, flaming ant epidemic”.
Stewart calls the US media “the country’s 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator,” which, he added, “did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder”. Is that not exactly a description of the activities of groups like the ACCG, Tim Haines' Yahoo Ancient Artefact Group? Is that not a reflection of the attitudes enshrined in the closed access UK metal detecting forums?

Vignette: Jon Stewart at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear (Drew Angerer/The New York Times)

"Responsible Detecting" and the Depth Advantage (part II: please don't take any notice)

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The comedy goes on. Heritage Action wrote a well-argued piece about the depth advantage given to detectorists with new machines being promoted by Minelab. There is now an addendum that I could not resist borrowing. The follow up to the attention this machine has been receiving is interesting in itself. This is from the Heritage Action website:

Update 31/10/10

NOTE ABOUT COMMENTS RECEIVED ON THIS TOPIC: We have received a succession of comments on this, all from metal detectorists, all telling us these machines are useless and pose no threat. Since this is so much at odds with the initial reaction on detectorists’ forums (universal delight, and many saying they would buy them) it looks very much like the comments are not to be taken at face value so we don’t feel obliged to give them a platform here. Nevertheless, here are a few examples of what we have been asked to believe. The reader can decide for him or herself whether they add up to a pretty obvious attempt to unjustly allay public fears:

I wouldn’t take too much notice of these GPX depth claims

I wouldn’t get in such a panic.”

Almost no-one will buy them as they’re too expensive

most detectorists are elderly and unlikely to wish to exert themselves to a great degree

the three people demonstrating the machine “are well known in the detecting community to be responsible” [yet they are advocating digging to 18.5 inches?!!]

It’s not a brand new machine, just a revamp

it’s not set up as an artefact finder but for hunting for gold nuggets, therefore not really that suitable for UK detecting [even though the Minelab official site says “Also great for the specialist relic and jewellery hunter who demands the best, and wants to recover targets deeper than ever before.” ?]

The previous model never really sold [so Minelab have launched this improved version expecting that this too won’t sell well?!]

people will get pretty sick of digging lots of junk at all sorts of depths”,

it’s mainly sales hype so the people involved can receive free detectors & other perks from Minelab

And best of all:
they are pretty much useless for most archaeological sites in Britain
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Well, we can all stop worrying then! Or perhaps not. Incidentally, since not a single detectorist has written to us saying other than that these machines are useless and no threat whatsoever then detectorists will have no objection to their use being officially condemned or prohibited. Will they?

Well, will they? Time will tell, so far the PAS and British archaeologists are being very quiet about all this.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

"Responsible Detecting" and the Withdrawal Method

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Have a look at the latest Heritage Action post: 'Metal detecting: Minelab announces a major and disastrous technological advance!'

"Who could sensibly claim that detectorists will always (or even often) confine their digging to the top few inches when they are urgently being made aware there are good targets further down. To propose such a thing would be to suggest they aren’t human. PAS oughtn’t to imply otherwise.
Third, it surely follows that there is no realistic way that PAS can tell the public there is no problem with these machines being out in their fields. It just won’t wash to say that “because we have outreached to, liaised with, and partnered detectorists nearly all of them are now so responsible they would stop digging after a few inches.” Surely the “metal detecting debate” isn’t going to end up with PAS saying they truly believe most detectorists will practice the withdrawal method? I have news for Pope Roger: they won’t, in their thousands, and everyone knows it!"
The author's fourth point is a good observation. The detectorists are not so much concerned with responsible detecting, but the appearance of doing responsible collecting. It's all a sham really.
Vignette, metal detectorist after detectoitus interruptus - adapted from here

How much support for a Campaign to amend the UK Treasure Act?

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In a comment to a previous post we hear from Mo who has been in touch with Ed Vaisey and the reply she got:
"As you may know, the existing definition of Treasure was drawn up after consultation and approved by Parliament during the passage of the Treasure Act 1996 (the Act) and the Treasure (Designation) Order 2002, which amended the Act. The Government would only seek to introduce further amendments if there was agreement of the need for this amongst those with the relevant expertise, following a public consultation. Any amending legislation would need to be approved by Parliament. At the time of the previous consultation, extending the definition of treasure to cover all items of archaeological significance was considered but not recommended as it would have been unmanageable with the staffing levels at relevant national and local museums at the time. However, in the next year or so, we will be revising The Treasure Act Code of Practice and looking at the definition of Treasure contained in the Act. We will be conducting a public consultation on this, which will be posted on the DCMS website. You are welcome to feed in your comments into the review when this takes place".
Well, the reply is basically "buzz off and don't tell me your opinion till you are asked". The assurances are typical meaningless political mumbo-jumbo. The Code of Practice is actually not worth the paper its printed on to judge from the way it is ignored by both sides when things are not promptly reported and simply hoiked out of the ground and presented to somebody (usually the PAS FLO which is not what the Act says should happen) in a box. So it seems to me amending the Code with have no real effect on what happens out there in the fields.

And they "will look at" the definition of Treasure and have a public consultation. Well, we've seen that before, haven't we? A few archaeological bodies will tactfully suggest that "if it would not be too much trouble" that "maybe it would be nice" to please consider just a few minor alterations, but really not enough to upset those jolly nice responsible metal detectorists out there engaged in their heritage heroism... The PAS itself will be in a cleft stick, should it raise a voice in support of changes, it will be faced (as it frequently is in such situations) by a walk-out of "responsible detectorists' who ill desist from responsibly reporting their finds. And every metal detectorist in the country will be getting their friends and relations to bombard the public consultation with objections to any change in the "already stringent" laws. The antiquities dealers trade organizations will be lobbying the government, reminding them of the contribution of the antiquities trade to the job market and trade balance - and also that the European Union was set up to foster free trade of commodities. The ACCG will send a letter or two, it may encourage its members to also send objections to the public consultation. Yes, we've seen it all before. Faced with the shouting opposition, British politicians will shrink from the task of doing anything except adding maybe a few half-hearted words to the existing act (like "and shiny Roman cavalry helmets" maybe?). The looting (in all but name) of Britain's archaeological record will go on.

Pessimist that I am, I think nothing much will change, unless "we the people" do something than merely set back and let the shouting collectors and the dealers get their way. What support would there be for a real grassroots campaign to get something moving? Now, actually that should be led, shouldn't it, by that Portable Antiquities lot but having watched them over the past decade or more I am convinced there's no point in waiting for them to take the initiative. The CBA? Unlikely. What this needs is a real political campaign, getting the newspapers not just "mentioning" it, but writing about it. Get it on the TV, in the Daily Mail, get people wearing "Legislate to Protect History" tee shirts, street canvassing, publicity stunts, that sort of thing.

Photo: the Crosby Garrett "LOST SOMETHING?/ Legislate to Protect History" teeshirt available in many sizes and colours, available from ...? (the legend 'Legislate to Protect Archaeology' and a link to the website is on the back).

Not From The UK: "Awesome Depth Advantage" and the Archaeological Context

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I pointed out that not a single "responsible detectorist" in the thread about a "depth advantage" on the Minelab Owners' discussion list saw any flaw in the argument that deeper penetration by metal detectors is "better" artefact hunting. Since then there has appeared a post which proves the exception. A metal detectorist comments:
I never liked Mr Barford's blog cause he just plainly dislike any use of detectors by NON archeologists but I would like to point out that right now he finally has a point. Not that it matters much to the total view of Mr Barford but the archeological Context of undisturbed finds in its original setting is of Great Value to the heritage and cannot be compared to the value of tumbled around finds in the topsoil of farmland.
Of course that's not one of the UK's government-subsidised and approved partner artefact hunters from the UK, but Bjorn Fodnes, a metal detector user from Norway.

Whether Mr Fodnes likes me or not or thinks I "have a point" is absolutely no concern of mine, but he seems not to understand what this blog is about and therefore my position on metal detectors. I think they are wonderful tools with great potential for hobby use, beachcombng, meteorite hunting, gold nugget hunting, maybe World War Two militaria collecting. What I am concerned with here is the creation of ephemeral personal collections of archaeological artefacts in a manner which is leading to an ongoing erosion of the archaeological record. This blog is called Portable Antiquity Collecting ... Issues (not Metal detecting issues). What therefore is my concern is not that I "just plainly dislike any use of detectors by non archaeologists" as I have no problem with the use of metal detectors by non-archaeologists (or non-anything) in general, but what I do have serious concerns about is the manner in which they are used for artefact hunting and the way this is carried out, despite thirteen years of PAS "outreach" trying to convince us all that "most metal detectorists are responsible" when discussions about the "awesome punching power" of a metal detector and how many artefacts can be hoiked out from even deeper below the surface indicate that this is FAR from being the case.

It is interesting to note that the point was made here not by a representative of PAS doing "outreach", nor by a one of the many supposedly "responsible" artefacts hunters who the multimillion pound outreach has convinced what "responsible" means in artefact hunting, but somebody from a different country. A country that has no PAS. What actually is the Portable Antiquities Scheme achieving except making a catalogue of just some of the things removed from the archaeological record by artefact hunters and constant public statements which only go to legitimising artefact hunting and collecting, rather than analysing the phenomenon in terms of its impact on the preservation of the archaeological record?
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Friday, 29 October 2010

Braintree Dealer: "I got a good business 'ere, keep ya nose out!"

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An eBay seller, Tayla.Anne (I'll assume from the name it is a she) based in Braintree Essex was mentioned on this blog a few weeks ago (5th April to be precise). She is just one of hundreds of similar British small businesses which daily and weekly openly advertise sales of archaeological artefacts and other items found by metal detecting in the fields of Britain under that country's totally ineffective archaeological resources "protection" legislation. I commented on the lack of proper provenances and mentions of any reporting of any of the metal "partifacts" she was peddling and posed a number of questions about current British "policies" on this kind of exploitation of the archaeological record.

Such is the apathy that surrounds such questions, I did not expect a reaction (though I did note with some satisfaction that that particular post was still being visited quite frequently). But just the other day one "Coins 1066" joined Blogger and shot me off an "ere-you!" comment in reply to that old post:
Oh dear, If only you had asked before posting this very inaccurate information. I am a business and b[u]y my items from auctions, dealers and detectorists from all over the UK. Please remove this or at least correct it. You have no right to do this without getting your facts straight.
Sadly that is it. The person - I presume Tayla.Anne herself (though why she cannot use her real name beats me) - does not indicate which facts I have "not straight". This is typical of the milieu, vaguely accusing their critics of having distorted something but never indicating where and why what is said is a distortion. I suppose the idea is throwing mud and hoping some sticks. Well, I invite any readers who are looking at this to look at my post about this lady's business, to look at her current listings. Maybe they can see where in my discussion of what was visible in her listings when I wrote I can have given "very inaccurate" information? By the way in her current listings we see (in the "Antiques > Antiquities > British" section) a battered "Rare Viking silver wire bead" in the description of which nothing is said of its origin or the fact that it has been reported as Treasure - like the collection of miscellaneous metal detected old silver 'scrap' pieces she is selling concurrently. I asked her about both in my comments a while ago, but have not received a reply, perhaps she will write about the procedures followed in all of the potential Treasure cases I mentioned when the auction ends tomorrow.

Now not only do I not accept that in the case of a business selling off bits of the common cultural heritage to the highest bidder openly on a public internet forum that anyone coming across this kind of situation has the "right" to do this, I would say that in the case of somebody concerned about the fate of the archaeological record it would be a grievous sin to sit back and watch it and keep quiet. In the case of an archaeologist in fact I would say there is a professional obligation to do this. Which is what the final paragraph of the April post points out. Since then, I am sure many of my professional colleagues in the UK have been speaking out about the daily sales of unreported British artefacts on internet portals like eBay - just very, very quietly amongst themselves.

Just as a rough indication of what is happening: At the moment there are 1092 lots listed on the UK portal of eBay as "British antiquities" in the same section as Tayla.Anne's apparently unreported Treasure item. Some lots contain several items, many of them (but not all of course) are the sort of thing that PAS would record if it had been shown to them. Randomly clicking on a few dozen auctions did not reveal a single one this week listed by its seller as having previously reported (but most sellers give international postage rates). Let us say then that as a rough guideline each week some 2000 objects are listed for sale on the EBay portal of the UK alone. I wrote my post about the Braintree seller who buys "items from auctions, dealers and detectorists from all over the UK" in the first week of April, so 27 weeks ago. At that rate, since then, in the time it took Tayla.Anne to come back to me with a comment on my post, some 54000 metal detected items labelled as "British antiquities" will have been listed for sale on eBay without apparently more than a handful of them being shown to the PAS. Many of them have already been sold, and many of them already shipped off (many of them in unlabelled postal packages so that the customs men do not spot them I'll bet) to accumulators of personal collections scattered all over the world. Potentially up to fifty four thousand in just the time between two posts here, that is almost site emptying on an almost Balkan scale. Right there in Britain, right under everyone's noses. And they have the gall to say that metal detecting is beneficial to archaeology and they have the best system for protecting the archaeological record from looting. Well that is obviously just blague and nonsense.

[Anyone who says that what I have just written is a "distortion" or whatever, can I assume give us the official tally from the collectors-archaeology "partnership" of the scale of sales of reported and unreported British artefacts through this one (or all) internet portal in the first nine months of 2010. The public has a right to know. Thanks].
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Thursday, 28 October 2010

Avaaz: "Save the Whale"

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Whales are hardly "cuddly creatures" but people care, quite rightly. Last night I got an alarmist email from an attractive Polish lady journalist from the leading national paper here who once interviewed me about something-or-other. Now she's urging me to help save the whale. The accompanying link went to a lively petition already with some 500 000 signatures on it. It is organized by a group called Avaaz:
Avaaz.org is a new global online advocacy community that brings people-powered politics to global decision-making. Avaaz—meaning "voice" in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages—was launched in January 2007 with a simple democratic mission: organize citizens everywhere to help close the gap between the world we have and the world most people want. In 3 years, Avaaz has grown to 5.5 million members from every country on earth, becoming the largest global web movement in history. The Economist writes of Avaaz' power to "give world leaders a deafening wake-up call"; the Indian Express heralds "the biggest web campaigner across the world, rooting for crucial global issues.” and Suddeutsche Zeitung calls Avaaz "a transnational community that is more democratic, and could be more e ffective than the United Nations.” Run by a virtual team on 3 continents, Avaaz operates in 14 languages.

Now how can we get their members interested making 'wakeup calls' about the issues of the illicit trade in ancient artefacts and no-questions-asked market and collecting?

Oh, and while you are at it, add your voice to the whale petition please.

Woman arrested while attempting to mail a mummy by parcel post

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According to a report ('Woman arrested while attempting to mail a mummy by parcel post') Bolivian police arrested a woman who had tried to send a Peruvian mummy in a cardboard box to France using regular postal service. The child's corpse, probably from a burial of the Inca culture,
was discovered during a routine inspection at the time it was being shipped through the Post Office of Bolivia in La Paz bound for the French town of Compiegne addressed to a person identified as Annette Huc, said Tuesday police Col. Adolfo Cárdenas, according to El Comercio de Lima (in Spanish).
Cardenas said the detainee stated that she received the parcel containing the mummy from a Peruvian national in the Bolivian town of Desaguadero, near the border with Peru, about 70 kilometres west of La Paz. The instructions she received were to send the shipment to France by Parcel Post. She also stated being unaware of the content of the package, reports lostiempos.com of Cochabamba, Bolivia (in Spanish).

There are two points here, it is no problem at all to shove whatever illicit antiquity in a box with bubble wrap and send it through the post with some vague customs declaration hoping the package will not be opened. It probably happens all the time. Secondly what kind of perverted "ancient art" collector collects dessicated human corpses ? It seems some people have absolutely no scruples about what they will collect and put on display in their homes to "make an impression" (or whatever they use these artefacts for - I would like to see Annette Huc whoever justify this on the grounds that they are "studying the past" through gaping ghoulishly at this cadaver). The case is still being investigated. Let us hope those responsible for trafficking human remains at both ends of the chain are brought to justice.

Quis Custodiet...

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It is a favourite smokescreen tactic of the "[inter]nationalist" US "collectors' rights" lobbyists to point out whenever there is a failing in the quality of museum curation in foreign "artefact source countries". It's almost like they are saying you can't trust the foreigners to look after the cultural heritage as much as US collectors. Recently there has been a few items in the news that might usefully restore some balance to the discussion of museum security in general. Among them are the following:

National Archives agents raid home of Leslie Waffen, former archives department head

Breaking News: NARA Discovers Missing Items at Former Department Head's Home

Harrisburg, PA USA: Auditor General Jack Wagner Says Historical and Museum Commission Not Properly Protecting State Historic Artifacts

LI museum director sentenced for Egyptian artifact theft

I am sure there are many more, the point is that these are not problems that are restricted to the countries where the inhabitants have browner skins and more antiquities than the average US collector.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

An AIA 'Take' on the CPAC Meeting

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Laetitia La Follette (Associate Professor of Art History at University of Massachusetts Amherst and member of AIA's Cultural Heritage Policy Committee) has given an account of the meeting of the CPAC at which the bilateral cultural property agreement with Greece was discussed This account ('Eleven AIA Members testify at Cultural Property Advisory Committee Meeting on October 12, 2010', AIA blog October 26, 2010) gives more of the atmosphere of the meeting than the earlier coiney-centred account of Tompa. In fact she gives one piece of information that Tompa witheld:
Peter Tompa, a paid lobbyist, provided some drama, protesting the Committee's refusal, based on advice from legal counsel, to allow him to pass ancient coins around the conference table as he has done in the past.
I have heard from people who were there that he almost had to be physically restrained from passing round his coins, I don't know if that its true, but the 'drama' of the moment made an impression on Prof. La Follette. Note how she emphasises Tompa is "paid" to do his lobbying.

Tompa's account is coiney centred and although Professor La Follette's version gives a much more rounded picture of the various concerns voiced, coins do seem to have figured large in the discussions. I do so hope that the Greek request covers ancient coins and wouldn't it be scandalous for the CPAC then to recommend their exclusion?

Mr Tompa also criticises Professor La Follette not saying anything in her account of the meeting to the effect that prior to it, "70% of the public comments [were] opposed to the MOU or its extension to coins". I hope however that the President's advisory committee pays special attention to those submissions and identifies the mechanisms and motives which were the motor behind them. Will they do that? Hmmm?

Neither did Professor La Follette mention that the UNESCO Convention contain other measures than Art. 9, and its about time the US took its accession to it seriously, or not at all. If they cannot adhere to it, the United States should withdraw from the Convention itself and rename the CCPIA to make perfectly clear to the rest of the world what is going on in and around the US antiquities market.

What the PAS is up Against

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The individual calling himself "whigsvolt" is criticising me for what I wrote about deep detecting. In the process though he shows what the PAS is up against trying to get over even the simplest ideas about responsibility and conservation to UK metal detectorists. Fortunately this particular guy concerned lives up in Abersdeenshire, so well out of the zone PAS is responsible for. This what he has to say for himself (Posted: 27th October 2010 at 13:30, capitalisation, commas and apostrophes as in original):
I see there is a removable objects Counter for objects removed by detectorists.I find this quite amusing, because if they were never removed from the ground,in the first place then we would never glean information and important data that recorded find,s have and will continue to give us for the future. Its also sad that Paul uses this counter in a very negative Manner towards Detecting.
Well, he's heard of something like that but can't actually be bothered to find it a mouse click away and look at it himself out of curiosity or a desire to be well-informed. Mr "Whigsvolt" should know that it is not a "removable objects" counter, but a RECORDABLE objects counter and it can be found here. But before he laughs himself silly about it, he should have a look at it and try to discover what it is about. I do not think it too difficult.

Whigsvolt continues witlessly:
If Detectorists Dont remove and record these finds then who will.There will never be enough financial resources for goverment body,d to recover these finds,never in a million years,So i think its perfectly logical to get these artifact,s removed by responsable detectorists before they are lost for ever and totaly forgotten about. All responsable detectorists care about our heritage too, but its our Hobby of detecting that is daily, giving us important data about our heritage by digging it out of the ground.
Well, who told the detectorist that archaeological conservation and sustainable management of the archaeological resource was about removing loose finds from the archaeological record as quickly as possible? Indeed if the removal was being done by really responsible artefact hunters, that is those who report finds to the proper authorities (so in England and Wales the Portable Antiquities Scheme, in Scotland the Treasure Trove Unit) then that would not be wholly bad.

But of course if he'd taken the trouble to look at the Heritage Action erosion counter before poo-poohing it, he would have discovered for himself that what it is talking about is the number of recordable items removed from the archaeological contexts and NOT BEING RECORDED. The PAS' several hundred thousand (and Minelab's pirate website UKDFD's 25 000) are a drop in the ocean compared with what the counter estimates has been removed by artefact hunters. Yes, I think those figures present "Responsible detecting" in a wholly bad light. So much so that you'll not find a detectorist in the land who will agree that they show a real picture. But I always ask them (so far without an answer) by how much those figures would have to be WRONG to make the picture acceptable? 25%, 30%, 50%, 70% less objects being recovered and not reported?

Back in 2007 a Minister of Culture referred to the people PAS was trying to reach as "challenged by formal education". The sort of thing I have highlighted above occurs time after time in artefact collecting circles (and among metal detector users in particular). Bodies involved in 'liaison' and 'partnership' with artefact hunters are attempting to educate these people in best practice (ie that which allows sustainable management of the archaeological record), but how can you actually educate those that find learning a "challenge"? People who cannot put information in a wider context, think out for themselves what things mean? I think it quite symptomatic of the state of the PAS that despite having education and outreach as a primary core value, the first person to lose their job when the finances became wobbly was the education officer.

[I deliberately waited several hours before drawing attention to this post - enough time for at least one "responsible detectorist" to put its author right. Obviously the statistics seem to be against the notion that there are too many people over on that forum who have the slightest idea what the preservationist case is].

PS a few posts further on in the same thread, the same guy confuses Heritage Action with English Heritage - really on the ball this one...
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Bonhams Pots in the News Again

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Well, there's a turn up for the books. The Independent Crime (not "Arts") section has an interesting article by Mark Hughes ("Bonhams: Lots of trouble on New Bond Street", Wednesday, 27 October 2010) subtitled "Allegations of dirty tricks are haunting the leading auction house [...] the strange saga of the Medici Dossier". What really raised my interest was the first paragraph:
On a Wednesday afternoon earlier this month, lots 94 and 95 went under the hammer at Bonhams auction house in New Bond Street, London. The items, a 1,600-year-old Attic jar and a Greek jug from 350BC, were listed for sale at between £2,000 and £4,000. Only one of them sold. Lot 95, the jug, intricately decorated to resemble a man's head, fetched £3,600. But the buyer pulled out after learning what distinguished lots 94 and 95 from the rest of the 436 items under the hammer that day: both are believed to have passed through the hands of Giacomo Medici, an Italian art dealer who ran one of the world's biggest antiquities trafficking networks.
It is a shame the buyer did not take the trouble to look more closely into what they were buying before they decided to place a bid, isn't it? But what a development, here I was thinking the buyers who buy this stuff don't give a monkeys, and it turns out one DID.

Hughes descriptively labels the "Medici Dossier" as a collection of documents "whose very name etches anguish across the faces of auctioneers around the globe". As well it might.

Selling goods once owned by a notorious art thief would undoubtedly sour the reputation of Bonhams, one of the most reputable auction houses in the world. But Bonhams was aware of the potential criminal link between lots 94 and 95. Days before the auction the house received an email from an eminent academic alerting them to the questionable provenance of the lots, but it pressed ahead with the sale.


OOops. If that is indeed the case, perhaps they thought nobody would notice, that their clients would not be able to check, that no collector worth his salt would be reading the arts newspapers or become aware of any of the web traffic on these items. Well, at least one did and I assume they are not very pleased with Bonhams for not being more transparent.

While it would be terribly nice to think that a gentleman collector was unwilling to sully his collection with an item of somewhat dubious provenance, perhaps the more prosaic reality was that having paid all that cash for this thing and then finding out what was being said about it, they realised that (bar a deaf-dumb-blind bed-ridden collector from Kazakhstan) thety might have trouble selling the object again and getting their money back (like the owner of the Sevso Treasure). Poorly researched antiquities may be false investments.

Minelab Owners Just do not Understand

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Last night I wrote a post here about excited discussion of a metal detector made by metal detector producer "Minelab" with "awesome punch" that could pentrate deeper and deeper below ploughsoil, and a video which seems to illustrate that this is not salesman's hype. It did not take long for the Minelab owners' forum to pick it up. C. Nyal de Kaye writes:
I'm a long way from the UK, but you would have to go a very long way to read something more foolish than the article by Paul Barford that John Winter linked us to. I do not understand why digging a hole, say two feet deep, poses any threat to anything, provided it is properly filled in as that hole was. I too get very annoyed with people who leave open holes. [...] In this case the hole was properly refilled. Have a look for yourself. Having watched archeologists "disfigure" (to use Barford's word) the landscape with back hoes, digging trenches of great depth and width, then Mr Barford, who is doing the most damage? The archeologist fill their trenches in a proper manner, just as we do, but we are "site hooligans" and they are not.[...] Sadly there will always be a fanatical element that oppose just about everything, and the writer of that article seems to be a good candidate.
Slow_n_Low (who I have never met) retorts
Thats Barford for ya.
Now that some unthinking metal detecting artefact hunter who thinks that I am the foolish one does not understand that digging a hole two feet deep into archaeological deposits poses a threat to them does not surprise me, nor that he thinks the whole thing can be simply "made good" by filling in the holes. That metal detector users like this do not accept the finite and fragile nature of the archaeological record and recognise the effect of their activities in taking objects from it for entertainment and profit surprises nobody who has had any prolonged contact with the milieu. For Nyal de Kaye, the only difference he sees between this type of artefact hunting and archaeological recording is that archaeologists "dig bigger holes". Yes, they do, you cannot interpret the stratigraphy of a site and the relationships between individual pieces of archaeological evidence through narrow holes no matter how "deep".

The Minelab owner does not see the issue I was discussing, merely deflects discussion from the aspect of destruction of what is below ground to the superficial issue of the appearance of the site on the surface. He insists that the turf of the site being searched is pristine, not at all damaged, and anyway if it was would soon "right itself". Well, have a look at what is behind the hole digger on the video 5:24 secs for example, or between the bloke with the mike's legs at 9:58, it seems to me detectorists have made a right mess of this grassland. And whether or not it will "right itself" in two, twenty or two hundred years is not the point. If you throw chocolate wrappers and coke bottles down they too will one day disappear from view, but that is no reason to say that littering of such places is acceptable.

Gary Brun says that my post was "just a little bit misleading" because:
Neil did fill in his holes.
We promote responcible detecting and care for the enviroment.
We record all significant finds and uphold the law.
(Note the word "significant" - are a pocketful of Roman coins from one small area of an upland site "significant" to Mr Brun? Also it is important with whom these finds are "recorded").

But anyway, that is not the point being made by my post. It is quite clear that there is archaeological material on top of that hill and whatever chance there is of understanding it is lost because of this activity which is being filmed. Where do we see Mr "Slow and Low" using a GPS to plot the pocket full of coins he has pinched? They have no measuring equipment up there, estimating the depth dug against their "twelve inch spade". What record of those coins and their mutual relationships in the ground exists in the PAS database? How much detail is there? How possible will it be to link the detailed position of these finds to those reported a yyear, two, five years ago and with what degree of accuracy?

Just "filling in the holes" is NOT full mitigation of the damage we see being done to that site in the video using this type of equipment. The fact that the detectorists discussing this on their forum show absolutely no sign of understanding that after THIRTEEN YEARS of PAS "outreach" to them is really shocking. It is illustrative of the degree to which PAS is failing to fulfil the basic aim which is to instil best practice so that artefact hunters help protect and not trash sites. Has the PAS seen this video even? Does the PAS have any intention of making any kind of comment on it and what some of their detectorist "partners" are saying about it? Where are these "responsible detectorists" why are they keeping quiet about all this talk? Or are they really just a myth?
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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

FBI Seizes Looted Mesopotamian Artefacts

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The initial Associated Press news report is brief ('FBI seizes looted ancient artifacts' Tuesday, October 26, 2010):
The FBI has seized numerous ancient artifacts originating in Mesopotamia, which were looted from Iraq and smuggled into the United States. Most of the items are cuneiform tablets which were used in Mesopotamia for record keeping. Federal officials learned an antiquities dealer in California was offering the artifacts for sale, and the FBI seized the items.
Although this looks like new news, it is in fact old news only now being released (Department of Justice Press Release 25th October 2010):
In July of this year, the United States Attorney’s Office, the FBI Wilmington Resident Agency, and the FBI Art Crime Team seized a multitude of ancient artifacts originating in Mesopotamia, in present day southern Iraq.
There is a picture of these artefacts.



The artifacts were looted from present day Iraq by persons unknown and smuggled into the United States unlawfully. The government of Iraq asserts ownership over them. The U.S. Attorney’s Office learned that these artifacts were held by an antiquities dealer in California, who was offering them for sale, and the artifacts were seized. The California dealer has surrendered any right he had in the artifacts, which have been forfeited to the United States government to be removed from the stream of commerce.”


I wonder how far the FBI is bothering to trace these objects commercial history? Who were they bought from and by what means did they arrive in the USA? Is "surrendering the rights" to the objects the only thing that will happen to this dealer? Shameful. At least name him.

Photo: US Department of Justice

Bulgarian Police Bust Illegal Treasure Hunting Deal

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The Plovdiv police were able to halt an illegal deal involving antiques and to seize several antiquities (Novinite: 'Bulgarian Police Bust Illegal Treasure Hunting Deal' , October 26, 2010).
Bulgarian police arrested five men in the village of Ustina, near the second largest city of Plovdiv, while they were attempting to conduct an illegal deal involving antiques. The information was reported by the Bulgarian Interior Ministry Tuesday. The five detainees include 2 treasure hunters from the village, Y.P., 45, and A. Ch., 62, and their customers – N.S., 38, from the capital Sofia and A.B., 43, and S.K., 41, from Plovdiv. The raid of Y.P.'s house discovered 5 pages from a metal antique book, 4 ceramic statuettes, and a ceramic bowl. The police further seized several cell phones and laptops. Both treasure hunters have criminal records – for fraud, illegal drugs possession, theft, assault and battery. All are being held behind bars for 24 hours before facing a judge. The confiscated objects were sent to Sofia to be examined by experts from the National History Museum.
I wonder what is covered by "5 pages from a metal antique book"? A Roman military discharge diploma? So who were businessmen "N.S." from Sofia together with "A.B." and "S.K." from Plovdiv gong to sell the looted antiquities to?

Staffordshire Hoard Findspot Correctly identified in Warsaw

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According to the publication (brought to my attention by David Gill) of a paper on the Staffordshire Hoard in Antiquaries Journal (Dean, S., D. Hooke, and A. Jones. 2010. "The 'Staffordshire Hoard': the fieldwork." Antiquaries Journal 90: 139-52), it seems that my deduction of the "secret" of the findspot's location was almost spot on (although I said at the time "one of two fields", I later worked out which was the correct one, but I thought it was the other side of the field). So if I can work it out in remote Warsaw every nighthawk in the country had the opportunity to do the same and take their GPX5000s and get out there after dark. Actually I think there is every chance there was a royal vill in the valley below where Roman road crosses the stream 6 km from Lichfield and unless the team from Birmingham has investigated this properly the fragile traces of that too will be "hammered" into oblivion by our "mates" with the metal detectors before long. Apart from some scrabbling around in the immediate environs of the find itself, just what kind of followup to these hundreds of Treasure finds made each year is there? What kind of protection is extended to the places where nationally important treasures have been found to make sure they are not further damaged?

David Gill's "Looting Matters" has a Google Earth map flagging the site. In fact on GE you can see the parched spot where Birmingham archaeologists dug a hole in the photos. Obvious really.

Conserving the Crosby Garrett Helmet

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Information about the conservation of the Crosby Garrett Helmet can apparently now be found in the November / December issue of the magazine Minerva ('Face of the Roman cavalry - The remarkable story of the Crosby Garrett Helmet' by Mark Merrony). According to this it was conserved by Darren Bradbury who is quoted as saying
" The Crosby Garett helmet must be within the top five most impressive artefacts that I have ever worked on. However, having been found on British soil, this is most important historically and to me personally. The mask was incredibly intact with just minor damage to the surrounding locks of hair and the chin , where only a handful of fragments had broken away. The helmet however was in a flattened and crushed state and in 30 fragments. As restoration progressed, the true shape of the helmet, an impressive Phyrgian-style cap, became apparent. Once reworked, the helmet and mask only required light removal of earth to reveal a fine surface patina. It really is a privilege to have been involved with such a truly magnificent object".

Interestingly there is discussion on the Roman Army Talk forum of an earlier photo that had been published there of the mask "after excavation" with GRASS in the background, and a hole in the chin. the photo was recalled by several members but has apparently been deleted from the archives by person or persons unknown, prompting one member to note that this raises the question "where and when was it actually found?".

Tom Flynn on the Colonial Disembodiment of Voices

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Tom Flynn speaks of the colonial disembodiment of voices as represented by the British Museum's collections. Worth a read.

Prof. Andrzej Tomaszewski

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It is with great sadness that I learnt just now that Professor Andrzej Tomaszewski died suddenly in Berlin yesterday. A huge loss to all who knew him. I last spoke to him a few weeks ago about plans for a conference he was organizing on the methodology and ethics of conservation. He was the Conservator General (1995–1999) under whom I worked in the Ministry of Culture, a great scholar and humanist and a good friend. I learnt a great deal from our work together over the past fifteen years. His was an important voice in the international debate on conservation and his loss will be felt keenly by the milieu.

A. Tomaszewski 1934-2010: Historyk sztuki i architekt. Profesor zwyczajny historii architektury i konserwacji zabytków. Urodził się w 1934 roku w Warszawie. Studia odbył na Uniwersytecie Warszawskim, Politechnice Warszawskiej, Uniwersytecie w Poitiers (Francja) i Uniwersytecie La Sapienza w Rzymie. Doktorat (1967), habilitacja (1971), profesor (1976). Nauczyciel akademicki na Wydziale Architektury Politechniki Warszawskiej (od 1958), dyrektor Instytutu Historii Architektury i Sztuki PW (1973–1981, 1986–1987), profesor w Kolegium Naukowym Berlina Zachodniego (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin – Institute for Advanced Study, 1981–1985), profesor Uniwersytetu Jana Gutenberga w Moguncji (1986–1987).

Generalny dyrektor Międzynarodowego Centrum Badań dla Ochrony i Konserwacji Dóbr Kultury ICCROM w Rzymie (1988–1992), generalny konserwator zabytków Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej (1995-1999), delegat Polski w Komitecie Światowego Dziedzictwa UNESCO i w Komitecie Dziedzictwa Rady Europy, prezes Polskiego Komitetu Narodowego Międzynarodowej Rady Ochrony Zabytków ICOMOS (2003–2008), prezes Polskiego Komitetu Narodowego Międzynarodowej Rady Muzeów ICOM, przewodniczący Międzynarodowego Komitetu Teorii i Filozofii Konserwatorskiej ICOMOS, przewodniczący Rady Ochrony Dziedzictwa Kultury przy Prezydencie m.st. Warszawy, prezes Zarządu Polsko-Niemieckiej Fundacji Ochrony Zabytków Kultury, współprzewodniczący Kręgu Roboczego Polskich i Niemieckich Historyków Sztuki i Konserwatorów.
– Badacz historii architektury i sztuki średniowiecznej, historii kultury, teorii i historii ochrony dóbr kultury (od 1958). Udział w wykopaliskach i odkryciach archeologicznych oraz projektach konserwatorskich w Polsce i za granicą (Włochy, Francja, Belgia, Niemcy, Węgry). Autor ponad 230 publikacji w Polsce i za granicą. Liczne wykłady i seminaria na zagranicznych uczelniach. Członek Niemieckiej Akademii Urbanistyki i Planowania Przestrzennego. Członek Rosyjskiej Akademii Dziedzictwa.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Wikileaks Provides Evidence Linking Illicit Iraqi Antiquities to Weapons Sales

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Larry Rothfield has been looking at the Wikileaks files on the Iraq war, and reports:
Wikileaks Provides Evidence Linking Illicit Iraqi Antiquities to Weapons Sales. The use of the wikileaks search engine reveals notes on other antiqu[ities] seizures (and some antiques) but they are not terribly intelligible, being both barely literate when written and then heavily censored.

See also now Owen Jarus on Heritage Key: 'Statues, Vases and 120 mm Rounds - Wikileaks documents tell harrowing stories of Iraq's antiquities'.

For the alternate view see Peter ("I am for the Shi'ites") Tompa: Wikileaks, Tariq Aziz, and Archaeological Amnesia (sic)

UPDATE: See now Larry Rothfeld's 'More from Wikileaks on Looted Antiquities Recovered in Operations Against Insurgents'.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Curse does the Trick

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The London Arab-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat regales readers with an unusual tale about getting back an antiquity from abroad (Curse of the Pharaohs Restores Statue to Egypt', 23/10/2010). Interesting.


Vignette: Fantasy Snake Woman (no animals were injured or distressed in the production of this costume, no mythical oriental curse is believed to be involved in its possession).

Friday, 22 October 2010

“I want to auction it to the person with the most money.." says "enthusiast"

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In early 2009, Florida fossil collector James Kennedy cleaned off an old bone he had found two years earlier and noticed some lines on it — lines that turned out to be a clear etching of a walking mammoth with tusks. It is presumed to be the oldest known art object of its type found in the New World. The location where he found it hasn’t been disclosed, except that it came from an area north of Vero Beach.
Kennedy is keeping the bone in hopes of selling it by auction. “I want to auction it to the person with the most money, although I would rather it go to a museum,” Kennedy said.
Why? Museums do not have so much money these days. From one private collection to another makes more money.

HAPPAH on UK Detecting Fiasco

In this month's HAPPAH newsletter, the leading article ('Détection à l'anglaise : 2,6 millions d'euros pour le Masque de Crosby Garrett et des conséquences pour le patrimoine européen') is about the "casque dit de Crosby Garrett" and the fact tht in its disastrous sale by its metal detectorist finder for "2,6 millions d'euros" to a private collector. Our neighbours across the Channel have strong words about "Les conséquences a posteriori" of the British policy which this fiasco has revealed and they are well worth noting:
Selon l’association HAPPAH, le système anglo-gallois doit être réformé en urgence. Pour l’instant isolé en Grande Bretagne, il a une certaine influence sur les politiques des autres pays européens alors qu’il démontre régulièrement son inadaptation au phénomène « chasse au trésor ». Plus qu’il n’engendre des découvertes spectaculaires, il accroit de manière insoupçonnée les dommages causés au patrimoine. Des découvertes spectaculaires permettent de donner un semblant d’honorabilité au système mais elles cachent de très nombreuses dérives et son inefficacité. Par exemple, les rapports annuels du PAS nous livrent des aveux éloquents : alors que le nombre d’utilisateurs de détecteurs est estimé à 10 000 en Angleterre, seuls environs 3000 d’entre eux ont déclaré des découvertes. Avec une moyenne de 8 objets par an et par déclarant, le nombre de déclarations est dérisoire au regard de ce qui est prélevé sur le terrain.
En réalité, le PAS n’a jamais permis de lutter contre le pillage mais il l’a au contraire encouragé en faisant tout son possible pour développer la détection de métaux. Le PAS sert les intérêts mercantiles des marchands et fabricants de détecteurs de métaux. Il doit sa survie aux complaisances de certains conservateurs de musées prêts à tous les affronts éthiques pour acquérir des objets d’exception. Le ver est dans la pomme. En Angleterre, de l’argent publique est dépensée pour payer les salaires de personnes au service d’un lobby destructeur de mémoire. Comment les archéologues anglais, eux qui étaient il y a quelques décennies à la pointe des techniques de l’archéologie, peuvent-ils tolérer ça ?
Après une découverte aussi sensationnelle, des utilisateurs de détecteurs de métaux affluent en grand nombre dans le Comté de Cumbrie à la recherche d’autres «trésors» potentiels. L’annonce de cette vente record va encourager les pillages et encore accroitre davantage les dommages sur les sites archéologiques locaux. En outre, cette affluence devrait provoquer d’inévitables litiges avec les propriétaires fonciers (spoliation d’objets archéologiques, dommages aux cultures, etc). Le PAS ne sort pas glorieux de cette affaire. Près de 2 millions de livres sterlings vont dans les poches de l’inventeur et du prétendu propriétaire du terrain. Les bénéfices secondaires iront dans les poches des fabricants et marchands de détecteurs de métaux qui se sont vus offrir ici une formidable publicité. Les ventes de détecteurs de métaux devraient bondir en Grande Bretagne et dans le reste de l'Europe. Les conséquences de cette vente pour le public et les générations futures, en termes de pertes de données archéologiques, ne se limitent donc pas au casque romain dit de Crosby Garrett.
. And what does the PAS intend doing about it? We can ask them, but I don't expect we will get any kind of an answer.

This Could be Dynamite... If she can get them to co-operate

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The research of Katherine Robbins has been touted by "Portable [Antiquities Scheme]" here, and now we learn from Rally UK
At our August Club meeting, N.A.R.C. had the pleasure of hearing Katherine Robbins talk to us about her studies and how she is interacting with the P.A.S. to analyse the spatial distribution of finds across certain regions. To assist in her studies, Katherine has published an on-line survey for metal detectorists that she hopes will give her an insight as to both how we detect and record our finds. The survey is totally ANONYMOUS and she would welcome as much feedback as we can give her. You don't have to be from the regions listed as there is room on the survey for you to identify the counties where you detect. If you can spare the time, why not take a look and participate if you can: http://www.isurvey.soton.ac.uk/896.
The website announces candidly:
The vast majority of the data recorded by the PAS are recovered by metal detectorists and therefore an understanding of your methods and interests is essential for an understanding of the PAS dataset. [...] This questionnaire aims to gather information on your choices of sites, detecting practices, interests and recording habits. The last page provides space for you to comment on any other aspects of your hobby that I haven’t covered here that you feel are important for me to consider. The questionnaire may take up to 30 minutes to complete if all questions are answered fully.[...] My aim is to understand those biases that might affect where artefacts are buried, where they survive, where they are recovered by members of the public and where they are recorded with the PAS.
Now I have been hammering on about the need to do this for years, so am glad that at last the PAS has pulled its finger out and is getting on with (getting somebody else to) doing the job. Frankly though I think asking detectorists how much detecting they do how and when is about as useful as the shopping surveys that ask families how much alcohol they drink and porn magazines they buy a month. What's the betting that she gets about the same pathetic response as Oxford Archaeology's Nighthawking Survey? Tekkies do not like people looking over their shoulders at the best of times (that's why their forums are all closed off to the likes of you and me).

But her survey webpage reveals the answer to another of my questions, which was the additional region she chose. "I am looking at the spatial distribution of finds recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme using Hampshire, Northamptonshire and the Isle of Wight as case studies". That is a shame, the work I did with Nigel Swift suggests that metal detecting in the UK falls into two zone which have a number of characteristics, one of which would affect the way recording with the PAS (and not only) is done. Sadly Ms Robbins' "test case" areas do not differentiate those two zones.

This is quite apart from the fact that these patterns are something the PAS should have been studying from its own data well before we passed the thirteen year mark. Ms Robbins should be building on and refining a model of detecting practice established soon after the PAS went "national" based on what was thrown up by ensuing discussion of it. After all fulfilling the (in)famous fifth aim of the Scheme required possession of that knowledge. I really do not know how they could triumphantly announce a couple of years back that they had "achieved" it without having that information. Its just another one of those mysteries about the PAS - more "transparency" is needed!
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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Towton Finds Link to Dead Queen, or Just Archaeologist's Wishful Thinking?

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"METAL detector enthusiasts have unearthed gold jewellery that could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds at a secret site in North Yorkshire", so says Richard Harris ('Treasure found at sites in Escrick and Towton near York', York Press 13th October 2010).
One of the finds, an Iron Age twisted gold bracelet, may have belonged to a relative of Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes, and an expert says the site where it was discovered along with a brooch, a ring and an armlet may be of “real archaeological significance”. At an inquest held at Selby Magistrates’ Court, North Yorkshire coroner Rob Turnbull declared the bracelet as Treasure [...] The piece could now be worth £40,000 to metal detector enthusiasts Andy Green and Shaun Scott and the owner of the undisclosed spot where it was found. Earlier discoveries made by Andy and Shaun at the same site include a Romano-British bronze brooch, a gold Viking ring and a gold arm torc which, if eventually proved to be from the Bronze Age, could be worth up to £350,000.
The site near Towton appears to be "a multi-phase settlement spanning at least 3,000 years". So this site has already produced significant finds, including a Treasure find and yet is still being gone over by artefact hunters? Should not (National) Treasure find spots be given some sort of protection - akin to scheduling - to prevent their continued exploitation to find yet more cash-raising objects?

The PAS Finds Liaison Officer for North Yorkshire is Liz Andrews-Wilson , so it is a bit odd to read that "professional archaeologist John Buglass, [...] is acting as a consultant to Andy and Shaun". Consultant? What does being a 'consultant" for artefact hunters involve? Well,
Last year, an expert from the British Museum said the torc was not from [the Bronze Age] as it was too shiny and not weathered enough. But Mr Buglass said experts from both Bonhams and Sothebys believed in its authenticity. He said the colour of the torc was wrong because Andy had made the mistake of cleaning it. He said the discovery of the Iron Age bracelet tended to enhance the authenticity of the torc.
This raises the question of whether it was John Buglass who took the torc to Bonhams and Christie's on behalf of the finders? We remember reading that commercial auction house Christie's relies on the publicly funded British Museum for authentification - here it seems they have their own independent opinion - disregarding the Museum.

I really am disturbed by the ease with which these finds are narrativised by British archaeologists in the press. Not all members of the northern Britain were members of the same family. How on earth can one even guess that the torc was ownded by a "relative of Cartimandua" has it got the DNA of her family members on it? What nonsense. This simply suggests to the British public that archaeology is about finding pretty shiny objects made out of "lots of gold - worth X000 quid as bullion alone" and making up might-have-been fairy stories about them. Anyone can make up a good story, you don't need a degree to do that, "archaeology for all". A Bronze Age arm torc and Roman brooch have little to do with each other and certainly not evidence for a "royal" settlement owned by a relative of some half-attested Celtic queen who by historical accident is one of the few names of the period which we know from the whole region.




Will Andy Green be financially penalised for cleaning the torc and not handing it in in its 'as found' condition? That's what the Code of Practice for the Treasure Act indicates may well happen, it is very rarely practiced though. What was the chronology of the finding and reporting of all these finds if there was time for somebody to take them down to Bonhams AND Christie's in the interim?

Vignettes: Three finds do not a Cartimandua make.

Early medieval Ring from North Yorkshire

An inquest in North Yorkshire has found a Medieval gold ring found by a metal detectorist to be treasure (Richard Harris, 'Treasure found at sites in Escrick and Towton near York', York Press 13th October 2010). Coroner Rob Turnbull was also told about the circumstances of discovery of 10th/11th century AD gold ring set with a sapphire and red glass dug up from a field just outside Escrick. It was discovered by Michael Greenhorn of Clifton Moor (13 km away and the other side of York). He is a member of York and District Metal Detecting Club and found the ring "on a club outing" where "about 20 enthusiasts were sweeping a field with the permission of the farmer". In other words a commercial rally. The ring is in the BM being evaluated by the TVC:
"Mr Greenhorn believes it is worth between £6,000 and £10,000. However, the price of an object depends on how much someone is willing to pay for it, so it could be worth much more".
Which is why many Treasure seekers would prefer what they find to go to auction like the Crosby Garrett helmet.

We are told by the journalist that "Mr Greenhorn has been a metal-detector enthusiast (sic) for more than 20 years but this is easily the most expensive item he has found", but how many items and of what types has he removed from the archaeological record over those two decades (spanning the period from before the 1996 Treasure Act)? How many PAS-reportable artefacts does the typical artefact hunter find a year?
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Gossip about findspots


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One of the comments to the stories discussed above is worth noting. One correspondent (hydroman from York) gossips:
Not quite in the same class as the Middleham Jewel. I once heard that this was found in Flanders but transported to Middleham to avoid difficulties with French law.
Somebody called "Thundersley" replied:
I think this sort of thing happens a lot more than people like to admit.

Without venturing to judge on the Middleham Jewel case, I agree with the second comment. The truth is many objects entering the record through artefact hunting are found in completely uncontrolled circumstances - even if there are "witnesses" (for example something found when detecting with friends, or during a metal detecting rally) there is still no guarantee that the "finder" did not plant an object they had brought along for the purpose and then pretend to "find". There are of course many reasons why somebody might be motivated to do this. For example the object was found on land where they technically had no right to be, or the agreement over the splitting of proceeds of sale was less favourable to the seeker than that with another landowner. An object may be stolen (Malmsbury coin case) or fake ("Coldfeet" coin cases) or the finder may be seeking kudos - or the find may have been planted for somebody to find by his mates as a joke.

Or there may be cases, as the two commentators above are surmising of the unscrupulous utilisation of England's far too liberal antiquities protection laws to 'launder' artefacts brought into the country as a result of illegal excavation and export elsewhere and then their discovery in England 'staged' in order for the "finder" to be able to sell it openly (and thus for a better price) or receive a reward from the British public purse. There is nothing to say this was not the situation in the case of a number of objects which have commanded high prices on the British antiquities market, to what extent is the British system being utilised in this manner by unscrupulous culture criminals? Can the PAS assure the British public that this never happens, and if it were attempted, every time the FLOs/TU would detect the fraud and nip it in the bud? How many such frauds have been prevented over the past 13 years and 600 000 reported artefacts?

Whatever the answer, this is a loophole that too needs addressing when the Treasure Act is revised.

Photo Middleham Jewel (Yorkshire Museums)

EU Aequitas: giving Preservation the Finger

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Readers may remember the Falghera letter to CPAC from back in April ('Italian Businessman Urges US not to Stop Illegally Exported Coins at Border'). In my text on this I raised a number of issues and in fact wrote to the boss of Ermanno Winsemann Falghera s.r.l. posing these questions and asking whether he applies the approach he recommends adopting for dugup coins to his own dealings in the textile market. For example towards measures intended to support Italian interests against exploitation by unscrupulous business practices.

Unfortunately Ing. Falghera did not do me the courtesy of a reply, presumably we can take that as a "no". I guess the question why we should treat the ancient coin industry any different from any other is one he could not answer.




In the logo of the Società Numismatica Italiana, Aequitas gives the world the finger. That's one organization to avoid mentioning you are a member of in polite company.


UPDATE (Jan 2011): Over on Tim Haines' Yahoo "AncientArtiefacts" discussion list John Hooker is now spreading a rumour alleging that although her statues are all over nineteenth century European town halls and chambers of commerce, somehow the "ignorant" archaeologist "does not know it is a cornucopia". It seems some collectors are as humourless as they are witless. In this logo it is a cornucopia shown in a very bad drawing of a coin done with a sharpened stick by a grunting myopic numismatist on the wall of the cave of the Italian coin elves.

See now: http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2011/01/italian-industry-leader-chips-in-to.html


Vignette: A question without a satisfactory answer, is the international trade in trade in textiles etc. run like the Societa Numismatica Italiana would like the international trade in dugup coins to be conducted?

Some "Europeans Oppose Potential U.S. State Department Import Restrictions"?

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It is difficult not to smile at the latest ACCG press release drafted by former 'black propaganda' specialist, ACCG's John Hooker. It reads, reassuringly for no-questions-asked coin collectors, "Europeans Oppose Potential U.S. State Department Import Restrictions" and begins:
A wave of comment from Europe has appeared in opposition to potential U.S.State Department restrictions on the importation of coins from antiquity.
More "Yin and Yang"? What a hoot, what simpletons. Apparently according to the ACCG coineys a "wave" is... three people.

Greece: Anastasios P. Tzamalis,
(former President of the Hellenic Numismatic Society),
Italy: Ing. Ermanno Winsemann Falghera
(President of the Societa Numismatica Italiana)
Bavaria: Martin Zeil,
(Minister of Economic Affairs, Infrastructure, Transport and Technology).

These three all support the import from their countries of artefactual material (dugup ancient coins) into the US irrespective of whether they can be documented as legally exported.

All in the interest of "free trade" and all "supporting US collectors and dealers" who might want to import such material.

Well, three Europeans supporting international cultural property banditry is hardly a "wave" (if that is so, the six hundred or so that signed SAFE's petition opposing it is the "mother of all tsunamis"). I suspect that, no matter what these three individuals say out of coiney-business self-interest, the people of Greece, Italy and the Federal Republic of Germany as a whole really do not want their country to be involved in the the erosive trade of illicit antiquities, from Greece, Italy or wherever.

I think it high time that the responsible artefact hunters of the UK, so frequently invoked in US coiney propaganda, make their positions felt by an official statement of the NCMD and FID. I propose that the Executive Director of the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild together with Peter Tompa, acting on behalf of the PNG and IAPN address an open letter to these two organizations, together with their partner organization the Portable Antiquities Scheme requesting they make their official position known on imports of illegally exported artefacts by US dealers and collectors from European source countries, such as the UK.

Vignette: Three musketeers fighting the coiney cause in Europe.

Thomas Jefferson Opposes Potential U.S. State Department Import Restrictions?

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I think we should add to the voices of the three Europeans objecting to the US regulation of imports of illegally exported cultural property the voice of Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, barrow-digger and first Secretary of State in the newly-founded State Department initially appointed by Washington (1789-1793). He had various ideas in his time - this apparently is one of them:
The true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best, that the States are independent as to everything within themselves, and united as to everything respecting foreign affairs. Let the General Government be reduced to foreign concerns only, and let our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations, except as to commerce, which the merchants will manage the better, the more they are left free to manage for themselves, and our General Government may be reduced to a very simple organization, and a very inexpensive one; a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants.

Of course the internet-based postal sale of dugup ancient coins from all over the classical world was not around at the end of the eighteenth century, but even iof it was, one suspects Jefferson might have been on the no-questions-asked coiney side:
Money and not morality is the principle of commerce and commercial nations.
So we see the notions of the ACCG and their coin dealing and collecting pals are firmly set in America's long eighteenth century. I wonder if we will see those arguments turning up in the ACCG/IAPN/PNG court cases?

Vignette: Jefferson, Monticello.

Upcoming UK Conference: New Labour's Cultural Policy and its Post-Recession Legacy

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On 12th November 2010 at University College there will be a Cultural Trends International Conference: "A "Golden Age"? Reflections on New Labour's Cultural Policy and its Post-Recession Legacy". The keynote speech ("Creative Britain”: Myth or Monument") is followed by five sessions:
"The Reckoning",
"Patterns: Private, Public & the Lottery",
"Industries & Culture that Works",
"Leadership, Public Value & Social Good",
"Myths & Realities. Labour’s Core Script & Instrumental Measures".

So which session is the PAS and Treasure hunting going in? This is the archtypical example of New Labour cultural "policy", socially inclusive, not to say populist and not at all "joined-up thinking". What is its archaeological "legacy"?

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

"Allow market forces to take over": The US Perversion of the Intent of the 1970 UNESCO Convention

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In reply to Kent Davies' 5th September article 'Bulldozers Destroy Priceless Archaeological Site in Cambodia, Dr Robert Steven Bianchi, art historian fulminates:
What do the cultural purists have to say now? Obviously this is not an isolated instance because we can document other cases in which so-called source countries abrogate their responsibilities as custodians of our shared cultural past. These destructive acts by custodians in name but not in deed argue in favor of allowing market forces to take over. Those serious about art–dealers, collectors, museums, and galleries–should collect without any national or international interference because they are the true custodians and preservers of culture.
Well, oddly enough it was precisely "market forces" that led to the destruction of the archaeological site in question! Peter Tompa has a similar approach on his "Told-ya-they-wuz-no-good" blog in which he attacks any nation with which the US government has a cultural property agreement (plus Egypt). Cambodia is one of them, so gets short shrift from Tompa. Methinks he's not read the follow up article (Sept 10th). It is not "unexplained at all", sadly this kind of thing happens all the while.

"Cultural purists" Dr Bianchi? So you think that archaeological sites like the one destroyed by uninformed developers here should be protected by the international community working together, and not just the Cambodian rubber company that owns the land? So do I, so do I.

Tompa draws attention to the word "corruption" in the US-Cambodia MOU. In the context of the implications of what Dr Bianchi says, I'd draw attention to Article II, B and C:
B. Representatives of the Governments of the United States of America and the Kingdom of Cambodia shall participate in efforts to publicize this Memorandum of Understanding and the reasons for it, particularly as they relate to the Bronze and Iron Ages.
C. The Government of the United States of America shall continue to use its best efforts to facilitate technical assistance in cultural resource management and security to the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia, as appropriate under available programs in the public and/or private sectors.
I'd suggest that this case and the reaction to it reflect that the "best efforts" of the US government are not being very effective in this area.

We are increasingly seeing in the CPAC hearings and related events, opinions and texts that demonstrate unequivocally that US dealers and collectors want to use the MOUs as a tool of US imperialism, to dictate to the governments and citizens of other countries what they should and should not be doing and subjecting them to criticism and ridicule if they do not comply in the manner they (the Americans) see fit. This was not at all the intent of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. It was not created to be used as a nationalist tool of domination and exertion of political influence of the USA over the internal policies of other countries, but to secure equable and licit international dealings in cultural property.

I ask again, if the American people are not going to play by the same rules as the rest of the states party to the Convention and merely intend to pervert its ideals to use it to suit their own political and economic aims and exert influence and pressure on foreign governments, then why do they not withdraw from the umbrella of membership of the Convention itself and merely continue applying their CCPIA in a manner which makes their motives for doing so more transparent? I the US intends to continue to support "no-AMERICAN-law-was-broken cultural property banditry", then let it do so openly and not under the umbrella of being party of a Convention which incomplete implementation in fact renders meaningless in the US market.
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